Minnesota center Mo Walker's chuckle exudes pain.
It’s his natural response to questions about the foods he’s ditched to achieve a 50-pound weight loss since the end of the Gophers’ season.
The Lasagna? Gone.
The vanilla ice cream and milkshakes? No more.
The pizza? Well ….
“I’ll have a slice of pizza every now and then,” said Walker, who weighs 260 pounds now after playing at 310 pounds throughout last season. “But it’s usually in the middle of the week when I know I have a few workouts coming up and I can burn off the calories I just ate.”
Walker isn’t perfect but his new body is a testament to his offseason commitment and response to Richard Pitino’s plea.
The new Minnesota coach recently tweeted stunning before and after images of the junior:
Walker credits extra weightlifting sessions, training and a revamped diet.
“I’m going to be able to contribute a lot more,” he said. “I’m going to be able to play more minutes. I’m going to be able to give a lot more effort out there on the court.”
Shortly after Pitino arrived in early April, he told the center that he had to lose weight to play in his system, which emphasizes full court pressure and quick buckets in transition.
With Trevor Mbakwe and Rodney Williams gone, Pitino knew he needed more size. But he also recognized that his small recruiting window would probably result in a roster with limited interior depth. The Gophers only have two true big men, Elliott Eliason and Walker.
And Walker, Pitino believed, couldn’t thrive in his fast-paced style. Not at that size.
“A lot of people were saying ‘He can’t play in your system at that weight,’” Pitino said. “Well, he can’t play in anyone’s system at that weight. He was just too heavy.”
That’s no longer the case.
Walker has lost nearly 100 pounds throughout his career. And now he’s a more mobile and usable forward for a program that needs size more than anything.
He’s certain he can keep the weight off, too.
“A lot of people fall off and cheat every now and then, but I’ve been pretty good with my dieting and watching my carbs and my calories and just working out,” he said.
But weight has been a perennial challenge for Walker.
An ESPN.com scouting report described him as a “mountain disguised as a man” when he was a 270-pound high school senior in 2010.
By the time he reached Minnesota’s campus, he’d hit 326 pounds. He peaked at 346 before a knee injury ended his freshman season, but Walker actually lost weight following surgery.
Then, he went back to Toronto for the summer and it all returned.
“That home cooking,” he said.
Walker decided to stay in Minneapolis this offseason and work with the team’s strength coach on his diet and workouts.
It’s not easy to stay fit on any college campus, where young men usually subscribe to an “eat everything in sight” philosophy.
When Walker’s teammates make fast food runs, he usually stays home. When he joins them, he tries to make healthy choices.
“If I were to go to [a Mexican restaurant], I’d just have to order salad instead of a burrito,” he said. “It’s just picking my spots.”
But that’s only the first phase of the change.
Pitino is excited about the weight loss, but he wants the weight loss to be accompanied by a better player, a stronger player.
That’s the next step, he said.
“I told him just because you lost weight does not mean you’re a great player,” Pitino said.
He is more confident, though. And that’s a good start.
Yet it’s difficult to project a level of growth for a player who averaged just 6.6 minutes per game last year.
The weight, however, will no longer be an obstacle. And he’s proven that he can avoid the temptation that has thrown off his progress in the past.
It’s not exactly a piece of cake for him, though.
“Vanilla ice cream is my favorite thing, milkshakes,” he said. “I love the milkshakes. Pizza is just pizza. I don’t really like it that much. But ice cream’s probably the main [challenge].”